Court rules against Christie on COAH disbanding

Gov. Christie slammed ruling.
Gov. Christie slammed ruling.
Posted: July 12, 2013

TRENTON - In a setback for Gov. Christie, the New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned his June 2011 decision to disband the Council on Affordable Housing, which administers low- and moderate-income housing programs.

The court, in a 5-2 opinion, ruled that the governor did not have the legal authority to disband independent agencies and would have to seek legislative approval to shut down the council.

"To abolish independent agencies, the legislative and executive branches must enact new laws that are passed by the Senate and the Assembly and signed by the governor," Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the 49-page opinion.

Christie denounced the decision, charging that the court, with which he often has clashed, was pursuing a left-of-center agenda rather than following the law.

"Both elected branches of government approved the plan to eliminate COAH," the governor said in a statement. "Not surprisingly, this liberal Supreme Court once again ignores that and continues to blindly perpetuate its failed social experiment in housing. The chief justice's activist opinion arrogantly bolsters another of the failures he and his colleagues have foisted on New Jersey taxpayers. This only steels my determination to continue to fight to bring common sense back to New Jersey's judiciary."

Christie and the Legislature had broadly agreed on a plan to disband COAH, but it foundered over the details. Christie conditionally vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature.

Low-cost housing advocates praised the opinion, asserting that Christie's attempt to abolish the agency would have caused sensitive housing decisions to be made behind closed doors.

"The Supreme Court's decision ensures greater public participation and transparency in important decisions on where homes get built," said Adam Gordon, a lawyer with the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center, who argued the case for maintaining the agency before the Supreme Court.

The council was formed in 1985 by the Legislature in response to the Supreme Court's Mount Laurel housing decision overturning what it termed exclusionary zoning rules and finding that suburban municipalities had an obligation to provide for low- and moderate-income housing.

The agency has become a lightning rod for conservative Republicans who deem it an unwieldy bureaucracy and reject the notion that government should require suburban communities to include low- and moderate-income housing.

Under the decision, municipal governments have charged commercial developers fees, which are then used to offset construction of low-cost housing for people who meet the income requirements. In a parallel case, the Christie administration has been trying to take control of up to $200 million in those funds held by municipal governments.

In one of his first acts as chief executive, Christie issued an executive order in February 2010 creating a study commission to evaluate the council and make recommendations about its future. A short time later, the commission reported back that the council was "irrevocably broken."

Christie and the Legislature failed to come to an agreement on how to restructure the agency, and in June 2011, the governor proposed abolishing the agency under the state Reorganization Act, which gives the chief executive limited power to reorganize or abolish agencies directly under their control. The Fair Share Housing Center then took the Christie administration to court.


Contact Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com.

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